75 Years of Drinking

On December 5, 2008 · 2 Comments

Today is the 75th Anniversary(1) of the repeal of Prohibition in the United States. In addition to my odd fascination with weird geography, I’m a horrible beer snob(2) and sometimes I even find ways to tie my fascination with beer and geography together. Needless to say, this is a big day for the Twelve Mile Circle and I will enjoy the event in the manner in which it should be celebrated

Alaskan Smoked Porter - Multiple Vintages
Multiple Years of Alaskan Smoked Porter

Prohibition fever spread across the United States at the turn of the last century. It became reality with the ratification of the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution and went into effect on January 29, 1920 along with its companion Volstead Act. I won’t dwell on that bleak time; rather, I’ll focus on the geographic fallout of the twenty-first amendment which repealed the earlier amendment in its entirety. Those wheels were set in motion 75 years ago today, on December 5, 1933, when these magic words enshrined themselves within the Constitution:

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed

While repeal was wildly popular with much of the citizenry, it was not held in universal regard throughout the nation. The next part of the amendment addressed those concerns:

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use there in of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

So, in spite of conventional wisdom, the amendment didn’t actually end prohibition. Rather, it allowed individual states to decide what worked best for them. States reflected an entire spectrum of beliefs ranging from great tolerance to total abhorrence and a state could impose prohibitions and restrictions with popular support. Mississippi didn’t end prohibition until 1966, for example, and Kansas didn’t allow liquor sales by-the-drink until 1987.

Naturally a complicated hodgepodge of different regulations and enforcement mechanisms developed over time. Wikipedia’s "Alcohol laws of the United States by state" provides a basic summary of the situation but only scratches the surface. Some of the more unusual variations I found:

  • Arizona allows drive-through liquor stores
  • You can’t buy alcohol in Indiana on election day until the polls close
  • Louisiana allows municipalities to determine whether open containers are acceptable; in New Orleans it’s fine but only in a plastic cup
  • Happy Hours are banned in Massachusetts
  • Missouri doesn’t have a public intoxication law, and Nevada expressly prohibits such a law
  • Beer above 3.2% alcohol by weight must be purchased in state controlled stores in Utah
  • Single beers intended for off-premise consumption cannot be sold in the District of Columbia

View Larger Map
A Virginia ABC Store in Arlington – Owned and Operated by the Commonwealth

Many states decided to allow alcohol within their borders only grudgingly, and only if they could remain strictly in charge so they could blunt the temptations for their more impulsive citizens. The concept of the Alcoholic Beverage Control board arose from this environment, including the state monopoly on the sale of liquor, and in some cases beer and wine too. The strictest of these so-called control states operate the dreaded ABC stores, which are state-owned and operated liquor stores with all the ambiance of something right out of the old Soviet Union. In one instance the monopoly transcends all the way down to the county level: Montgomery County, Maryland.

Dry Counties Map
A partial map of Dry Counties in the United States. SOURCE: Wikipedia – Dry County, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version

Prohibition still exists today at the county and town level in hundreds places throughout the country. "Dry Counties" are scattered liberally but they do tend to cluster around the southern tier. Ironically, one of those is Moore County, Tennessee, the location of the massive Jack Daniel’s distillery. All of these crazy these laws, regulations and permutations may be wildly inconsistent but it sure beats the alternative. So make sure you raise a glass tonight and celebrate the end of prohibition.

(1) I’m not really sure what to call the 75th Anniversary. If it were 70 years is would be the Platinum Anniversary. Diamonds are supposed to be an appropriate gift for the 75th Anniversary but that’s also the case with anything 60 and over so it hardly seems special. I did come across a website that advertised "Sensual 75th Anniversary present ideas – give the gift that shows you have the spark." I really didn’t want to know more about that so I left. Quickly. It seemed to me that any couple reaching their 75th Anniversary would be more concerned with simply breathing but, hey, more power to ’em.
(2) Think wine snob, except replace the wine with rare, unusual or ultra-high-end beers. A vertical tasting of several years of Alaskan Smoked Porter might be an example.

On December 5, 2008 · 2 Comments

2 Responses to “75 Years of Drinking”

  1. Steve says:

    I’ve much to say on this but I’ll relate but one story… while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail 11 years ago, a fellow hiker and I left the trail near the GA/NC border (my first motel night and last for a month) with visions of buffet tables, warm showers (It had been raining straight since day 1), and BEER.

    Yeah, well… we were in a dry county. The dude I was with was not happy. He had more expendable income than I, so he ended up paying some local yokel 40 bucks or so to drive 30 miles and pick up a six pack. Of Coors Light (I think).

    Best. Crap. Beer I ever drank.

    Btw, I’m enjoying Unibrou’s Le Fin du Monde tonight which I love.

  2. I recall vividly the last time I had a Coors Light. We’d just pulled out of the New River after rafting all day, and the guides were handing them out on the bus as we rode back to the top of the gorge. I absolutely could not taste a thing. Seriously. I remarked to my wife that I thought someone had switched the cans with water bottles. With that in mind I hereby nominate Coors Light for the "white bread" award — the most bland, least offensive, absolutely lowest common denominator beer ever manufactured on the planet (perfect for a full day in the sun but not much else)

    Unibroue, on the other hand, makes a full set of strong, bold, adventurous brews. People may differ in their opinions on them, but I don’t think anyone would ever call them bland or boring. I personally love ’em. A group of friends and I have been talking about trying to make a long-weekend trek up to Québec to visit the brewery, but so far it’s only talk. I’d love to add this one to my list someday.

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